Reverting to type

Good typography may be a dying art but not here at AML. Art Director Stephen O’Neill not only makes headlines and copy look appealing but also captures images of old, beautiful and often fast-fading type from around the world.

As a chap who likes type, I’ve been putting together a collection of photographs that I’ve taken on my travels both home and abroad showing typography in what I call ‘beautiful disrepair’. From the back streets of Andalucia to crumbly blue houses in Morocco, via murky olde London, I’m always on the look out for type that is of the vernacular and occasionally spectacular, documenting beautiful old letters and signage before they disappear. Through my photographs I want to provide inspiration for designers, sign-writers and photographers to keep these wonderful old letterforms alive.

I’ve been travelling to a little city in Andalucia, called Jerez de la Frontera, for quite a while now (my wife is from there). In this part of the world, most of the signage has been clinging to the same buildings for decades, rusting in the rain and fading in the heat. Despite the bright, harsh Andalucian light, many of these broken letters still look amazing and every weathered detail is crisp and clear. In other cases, the walls have crumbled and the painted letters have faded on them, like old frescoes. So what was originally planned as functional, possibly mundane everyday typography, has been transformed into something special.

This bright red matchstick dispenser, using a beautiful old condensed font, has been distressed over time but still isn’t as old as the weathered ice cream signage on the tiled wall behind it. Objects, letters, geometric shapes, colours and textures placed together by chance to create a fascinating collage.

Matchsticks machine (still not accepting euros), Jerez, Spain

In Chefchaouen, up in the Rif mountains of Morocco, virtually every building is painted blue. Here I discovered lots of old water hydrants that used Arabic but also had English numbers stencilled on top. The amazingly vibrant colour and distressed metal work have created another happy typographic accident.

Fire Hydrants, Chefchaouen, Morocco

I document letters and signage wherever I go, and I’ve increasingly found that the more mundane the environment, the more interesting things there are to find. So while the old cinema signage here looks lovely…

Cinema Luz Lealas, Jerez, Spain

…there’s something striking about the collage created by chance on an old advertising hoarding.

Dilapidated billboard, Tarifa, Spain

This summer I finally got round to getting a site together with galleries of type-related images. Through the site, I’ve connected with some kindred spirits around the world and my photos have been shared across the pond in Chicago and Texas, and in Europe in Greece and the Czech Republic.

I also carry my passion for type into my work as Art Director at AML. Carefully crafted type is pleasing to the eye – even if the reader, viewer or user doesn’t realise it! In a way it’s like having a clean showroom window, which may be (literally) unseen by potential customers. But they sure would notice if the window was dirty or cracked. It’s also great that AML has started working with Global Heritage Fund, whose mission is to preserve the most important and at risk historical sites around the world. Their work may be on a greater scale to mine but there’s a definite connection over the need to preserve (in my case photograph) our shared cultural heritage before it disappears.

So I’ll keep my phone camera at the ready. I hope you will too.